The move to have a Pillar of Social Rights as an instrument to reach a triple A social Europe, as it was initially presented last year, is significant and there are high expectations amongst those working in public social policy across Europe. The risk is that it may not go beyond a political exercise, which will remain in Brussels, and will not reach the local level.
When two weeks ago ESN held its annual meeting of the Reference Group on the European Semester , the members of the group stated that they had not heard about the initiative before despite the Commission currently holding a consultation and meetings with national government representatives and civil society organisations in EU countries. This shows that additional efforts are necessary to ensure that those with responsibility for social services in regional and local authorities are also involved in the process.
This process has taken place at a moment of increasing divergence between Member States across the EU, the backdrop of the Brexit vote, a reluctance on the part of member states to have the Commission involved in social protection issues, and an increasing emphasis on the principle of national subsidiarity. These discussions play also a role in terms of ensuring that information is properly trickled down.
Therefore, a key challenge for the Pillar is how to make it relevant for public social services in regional and local authorities. In this vein, the question is how the proposal for the Pillar is linked with the key statutory duties of local authorities? These may include the work that public social services do with vulnerable families, housing the homeless, caring for children who need to be protected from harm, protecting and safeguarding vulnerable adults with disabilities or providing care and support for frail elderly people.
Getting the Pillar right at the Local level
The Pillar’s proposal includes three main areas: equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions and adequate and sustainable social protection. These areas are very much related to employment but public social services at local level have a duty of care along the life cycle, which should be reflected in the Pillar. This may include high quality early childcare services, but also preventative and family based alternatives to institutional child care and the development of independent living initiatives for people with disabilities.
The responsibilities for these services may sit under different departments in various levels of government. This is why reaching out to the local level and securing their views, taking account of their responsibilities and the challenges they face is key to ensuring that the Pillar is more than a declaration of principles and has a real impact at local level.
- ESN will publish a paper on the Pillar after consultation with its members towards the end of 2016.
- For further information on the European Pillar on Social Rights including the Commission’s consultation and meetings in EU member states, please visit their website.